Live,breathe, code: Burning out and its causes

As a computer scientist trying to find his place in the vast world of technology, I feel this constant pressure to have programming rule my life. It has become the norm, this ‘eat, sleep, code, repeat’ lifestyle and honestly I think that this notion is terrible for a number of reasons. First, I feel like it pushes the active members in the community to have their lives defined by their interest in programming. This puts undue pressure on those who want to have a good work-life balance as it paints the picture of a ‘real programmer’ as someone who works all day, comes home and works on some side project of theirs and sleeps…that’s it. So if a programmer like myself wants to find a good balance between work and their ‘real life’, it feels like they are underachieving. So for those already invested in programming it definitely has an overall negative effect. The negative effects of this notion don’t stop at those who identify themselves as programmers, it also serves to scare those who could potentially get interested in programming but are intimidated by the fact that ‘coding is a way of life’.

I believe that this is the main cause of burnout as defined in these articles, they all seemed to have stemmed from trying to live by this expectation that coding should be your life. In the blog post by Kenneth Reitz he reflected on a time that he experienced burnout first hand. He was a major contributor in the open source community and it seemed that eventually he was being overwhelmed by his project as its scope has grown significantly since he started his project. He said that he was tempted to ‘410 gone’, or to pretty much delete his presence in the open source community and stepping back to re-center. He didn’t choose to do this and I think I know why. He didn’t do this because he realized that he could still have a presence in this community and still have a life away from it. This act of taking a few steps back but still having an influence in the community that he loved so much was a denial of the definition of the ‘programmer who only programs’. I very much admire him for this.

This is something that hits close to home for me as I have experienced burnout, and it was something that was very hard to get over. In my Freshman and Sophomore years I was all about work and even founded a club, eventually it was just too much for me to handle as I really just tried to take on all of the responsibility by myself. This, among other things, lead me to take my time off and rethink my approach to school/work in general and I feel like I have come to the same conclusion as Reitz. He says that a major help in preventing burnout is to delegate so that he doesn’t get overwhelmed. What I found to be the most helpful is to have a clearly defined support network, whether it be friends, coworkers, or family. Reitz and I also agree that having hobbies outside of programming is a good idea to reduce stress, since coming back to Notre Dame I have been trying to pick up more hobbies such as running and drawing. I find that in addition to reducing stress, it just allows you to take time to clear your mind and think about ‘non-programming problems’.

As I begin my transition into the real world, I plan on continuing to pick up new hobbies and to not be afraid to take a step back from work and remember that although I love programming, programming doesn’t rule my life.

-Nick

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